Recording strings

Discussion in 'Strings' started by kdawg, Jun 12, 2004.

  1. kdawg

    kdawg Guest

    I'm trying to work out getting strings like "It Ain't Over Till It's Over" by Lenny Kravitz on Mama Said. I've never recorded / hired strings before, so I have a few lame questions:

    1. What size section do you think this was to get this sound?
    2. What kind of room you think?
    3. What kind of micing - individual, or whole section, etc.

    I'm doing the arranging, but it's hard to know what to expect. Thanks...
  2. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Feb 17, 2004
    Central Copenhagen
    I don't know that song, but for ordinary pop strings I would try to both stereo mic and individually mic the strings. Depending on the depth of the arrangement, two violins and viola could be enough, or violin, viola and cello, or maybe even two violins, viola and a cello could do it. Be sure to get some good players - if there's a music conservatory or academy in the nearby, try to ask someone there.

    I would stay away from very small rooms. If you have something that's a little acoustically treated, I would prefer that, and considering the importance of room ambience for string instruments it may be safer to try to get a relatively dry room and later add reverb electronically in a way that it can easily be controlled and mixed than having the entire session spoiled by bad acoustics. Unless you can get a really good room, of course!

    Be sure to give each of the musicians a set of headphones - or, if that's not possible, you can conduct them to a click track. Run at least a little handful of takes with each passage, and in the editing process the tracks can be combined for a bigger sound.

    I would recommend making a search on this site - there have been a few discussions about recording strings.
  3. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    Jan 28, 2004
    Home Page:
    I don't know the song either, but my experience is that it is actually pretty hard to get a GREAT string sound without a lot of effort. Abbey Road did it by having maybe a dozen violins, distance miked with its 25 ft ceilings. That is what it really takes.

    Real strings are individually very thin sounding instruments, but in a large group become lush because of all the varied intonations and vibrato. Be ready to double the parts as many times as you can, and then if you are using a DAW do things like copying the track and dragging it back a hair for a touch of delay. Possibly use autotune to detune a few cents on the doubles, up on some and down on the others.

    I suggest a live room with close and distance miking. Close miking a violin usually sounds very thin and screechy. You need to capture the full instrument and some natural room ambience to smooth it out. I would set mics up in various parts of the room before the string players arrive so you can audition them easily and get an idea of what is going to work. Try recording them all on separate tracks to mix later.

    I also suggest adding cellos if you can, depending on the parts. Do write harmony parts in thirds and sixths.

    my $.02 - hope it helps...
  4. hollywood_steve

    hollywood_steve Active Member

    Jan 3, 2001
    OK, I'm a little out of my game here, I record a lot of strings, but not for pop music. But I don't get the idea of close mic'ing strings? Even those who recommend it state that it sounds like crap, so why bother? Unless you are recording in the room from hell, you can't go wrong pulling the mics back as far as the room will allow. (within reason, if you are in massive room) I grew up playing and recording absurdly loud rock bands and I fully understand the beauty of a 57 shoved up near the grill of an amp on 11, but acoustic instruments just don't work that way. They don't even sound like themselves until you get back, way back away from them.

    And unless the players picked up their instruments for the 1st time earlier this week, don't multitrack them. Put your best stereo mic or stereo pair in the sweet spot and let them play. No engineer can mix a string section as well as they can mix themselves. Can't be done, has NEVER been done. (If you spend any time with string players, you will hear them rag on this idea. Its always their favorite complaint from their last pop or film session - it just does't occur on classical sessions)

    Ok, I'll go back to my cave now....
  5. cruisemates

    cruisemates Active Member

    Jan 28, 2004
    Home Page:
    Steve, I agree about the close mics. After i wrote it I thought "why the close mics?" because you are going to use the distance mics anyway. I also agree you shouldn't try to "mix" individual string players so it doesn't make sense to multi-track them individually, However, to double the sections makes a lot of sense, I believe, because most of the time you don't have enough string players to make the section sound full.
  6. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    I'm actually going to disagree here in the context of the question... From a purist prospective, close micing strings doesn't sound particularly good- especially for classical music.

    For pop, though, a combination of close and far micing can sound quite good. When I close mic a section, I rarely put a mic closer than about 3 feet to the instrument. Even then, I'm very careful about where the microphone is placed... Small changes in position can have massive effect on the sound.

    For starts, do not place a mic directly over the top of an instrument. The sound of the bow on the strings makes for an incredibly scratchy string sound. Rather, experiment with placing the mics off-axis of the top of the instrument. For a string quartet, my main mic (only in a classical setting) is at shoulder height.

    Next, if you are going with a section, either use single players and overdub parts for a larger sound or use 3 players in a section. Something about only a pair of players with strings often just does not sound good.

    In the case of the Lenny Kravitz track you mentioned... to me it sounds like there are only high strings throughout most of it. Probably 3 or 4 players that have been multitracked. (or fewer that have been overdubbed multiple times). A few places in the song, it sounds like they may have added a couple violas, but I don't hear anything that sounds like cellos or basses in the section. It also sounds like was then mixed with a touch of reverb (short decay, small room) to smooth out the sound...

  7. Heptade21

    Heptade21 Guest

    I don't know if this would help but in school I've remember mixing a score for a film exercise and there was like two part for the string sound.

    First there was a real string quartet: 2 violon, 1 viola, 1 cello. I'm not sure of the mic, 2 KM 184 I think, and they used a ORTF stereo micking technique.

    And then, they dub that with samples like Garitan strings or Vienna to give it more depth.

    The mix of the two gave a great texture.

    Hope it helps...
  8. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Dec 3, 2003
    Whittier, California, USA
    I love Garritan strings, they are very well recorded and there are many samples and demos on his site on what you can do with them. I agree with heptade 21 that you could very well use them to augment real string and give them fullness. Once again, this depends on your budget, but most budgets won't accomodate a full personal orchestra. Lenny does have a budget but a full orchestra... I don't know, hard to imagine. (also if he used an orchestra it would be a bragging thing, look in the liner notes) A string quatet, some overdubs and some extra quality sampled strings like Garritan is probaly more like it...
  9. by

    by Guest

    If you're going the sampling route, also consider Sonic Implants Symphony Strings. I think they sound closer to that pop-strings that Lenny has going on in that song, very smooth and clean. I think vienna and garritan are more orchestral/live sounding, grittier perhaps.
  10. droog

    droog Active Member

    Nov 3, 2001
    definitely agree with live strings augmented with samples (mix and match different libraries for deeper effect)

    the juice of the strings lies in the arrangement, so read up on some ideas on the net (sos mag online has some good articles in the archives)

    the rock strings shouldn't be too low frequency(that aspect is taken care of by the bass/el.gtrs/keys), so violas and violins are better than bowed basses, the "no rules" rule notwithstanding.

    also, imo, strings in pop/rock are often mixed way too loud (i guess, once you paid the union rates to the players, you don't want to hide the results)

    for a good example of intelligent string arrangement, check out van dyke's work on silverchair's last album "diorama"

    i'll post some links on arrangements when i find them
  11. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Feb 17, 2004
    Central Copenhagen
    Seems like the close miking multi-tracking way of recording strings isn't popular. I've been experimenting with a pair of Røde NT5 recently; set them up in A-B stereo position somewhere between 5-7 feet away from the violin in a not-so-well sounding room (fairly big, but not big enough not to be boomy), smacked on some reverb and left it without any compression or anything. The result is the Bach Adagio. I also recorded two potpourris in a church to get a sense of how the microphones reacted in a room with a wonderful sound. Just skip the "piano test" file - it's not worth listening to!

    I wouldn't go further away than 5-7 feet from the ensemble, I think. Especially not in pop music where I would personally prefer to have more flexibility, and muddy or too distantly instruments just make that more complicated, I think.

    The audio clips can be found here:

    The site is in Danish - I'm sorry about that, but I hope you figure out how to hear it anyway!
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